We are knocking on the door of the 2023 NFL season and the anticipation is palpable. Like every start to the year, it's filled with a boatload of mystery because, even if we think we know what's going to happen, things can turn on their heads in the blink of an eye. Of course, we may be able to give our best estimation of how we think the upcoming season will play out and what storylines may sprout throughout, but we'll only know definitively once the games unfold in real-time.
That said, you're like me and you want a taste of what could happen this year and you don't want to wait any longer. I get it and I'm here to offer some help. While I don't have my time machine up and running just yet, we can settle for what Madden NFL 24 thinks will happen this year. And boy is it a doozy.
We sparked up the latest edition of the iconic video game franchise, updated the rosters, sat back, and watched as it simulated the entire 2023 season. As you may expect, some results will leave your jaw on the floor when you see them. Before you immediately dismiss these simulated results out of hand, however, just remember that our last three simulations heading into the previous three Super Bowls.
Do the Madden Gods know something we don't? Who knows. But if the actual 2023 season has even a dash of the drama that came out of this sim, we're in for quite a ride.
Regular season standouts
Naturally, there's a lot to unpack in this first section. We'll leave the award winners and playoff teams off to the side for the moment to highlight some of the other notable showings that this simulation had occurring this season.
The one that initially caught my eye was the breakout year for Falcons second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder. While the Falcons were unable to make the playoffs with a 6-11 record, Ridder lit it up from a statistical standpoint. In his first season as the full-time starter, the 2022 third-round pick finished fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,895. He also had 31 passing touchdowns while completing 68% of his throws. Turnovers were his Achilles' heel, however, as he threw 17 interceptions throughout the year as well. Ridder's passing yard total exceeded the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts.
Jimmy Garoppolo was another quarterback standout. Not only did he finish the year healthy, but he had 5,111 passing yards, which ranked third amongst all signal-callers. But Garoppolo's season wasn't exactly stellar. Outside of that massive yardage total, The Raiders QB completed just 57% of his throws with an 84.4 passer rating as Las Vegas finished last in the AFC West at 5-12.
Of course, folks are probably wondering how the Aaron Rodgers experience went in his first season with the Jets, right? Well, if you're a supporter of Gang Green, you might want to just chalk this simulation up as a silly video game and not pay it much mind. That's because New York failed to reach the playoffs in Rodgers' first season, finishing second in the division with a 7-10 record. Out of the four starters in the AFC East, Rodgers averaged the fewest passing yards per game with 238.6. However, the caveat there is he did attempt the fewest amount of passes of that grouping. Rodgers had 32 passing touchdowns (tied for second in the division) and 11 interceptions with a 101.2 passer rating.
It's worth pointing out that outside of Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player, Madden does divide some awards between the two conferences at the end of the year, so we'll be doubling up here with those accolades.
MVP: Dak Prescott. It was nothing short of a prolific 2023 campaign for the Cowboys and their starting quarterback. Prescott led all quarterbacks in both passing yards (5,208) and passing touchdowns (43) while completing 70% of his throws. Oh, and he also added 279 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Couple that league-leading production with Dallas winning its division and earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and Prescott had this award in the bag.
Coach of the Year: Zac Taylor. This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise with the Bengals looked at as a legitimate Super Bowl contender heading into the actual 2023 season. If they live up to their potential, they could easily find themselves in the situation they are in with this simulation: The No. 1 seed in the AFC. Taylor's Bengals also led the NFL in scoring and were straight-up road warriors, losing just one game away from Paycor Stadium.
Offensive Player of the Year (AFC): Joe Mixon. If you were going to pick a Bengal that would end up winning Offensive Player of the Year, you'd probably say names like Burrow, Chase, and possibly even Higgins before you get to Mixon. However, the veteran back went off in 2023 to help Cincinnati get the No. 1 seed. Mixon rushed for 1,319 yards throughout the year, and it was his 20 rushing touchdowns that propelled him to this award. He also added 41 receptions for 367 yards and four more touchdowns as a pass catcher as well.
Offensive Player of the Year (NFC): Cooper Kupp. When healthy, Kupp is arguably the best receiver in the NFL and he put up impressive numbers for the Rams in this sim. He finished with 126 receptions to go along with 1,834 yards and 16 touchdowns. Each one of those marks led the league in their respective category.
Defensive Player of the Year (AFC): Von Miller. Miller returned from his torn ACL in a big way, leading the AFC with 18.5 sacks. He also finished with 68 tackles (18 for a loss).
Defensive Player of the Year (NFC): Micah Parsons. The only player more productive than Miller in the sack department was Parsons. The Cowboys star came up a bit short of the single-season sack record but did just inch above DeMarcus Ware for the franchise single-season record, taking down the opposing quarterback 20.5 times. He also had 67 tackles (19 for a loss).
Offensive Rookie of the Year (AFC): Anthony Richardson. Two quarterbacks were taken above Richardson at the 2023 NFL Draft, but the No. 4 overall pick enjoyed the most productive season of the bunch en route to an OROY award. While Richardson is billed as a dual-threat quarterback, he primarily did his damage through the air in 2023. He threw for 4,189 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions while completing 70% of his throws. On the ground, Richardson rushed for just 1999 yards and zero touchdowns.
Offensive Rookie of the Year (NFC): Jayden Reed. Green Bay's second-round wideout lived up to his draft billing and then some with a breakout rookie season. The Michigan State product caught 105 passes from Jordan Love for 1,250 yards and nine touchdowns. That reception total breaks the single-season rookie record previously held by Jaylen Waddle (104) in 2021.
Defensive Rookie of the Year (AFC): Will Anderson. Houston's No. 3 overall pick proved to be a worthy investment right out of the gate. Anderson proved to be an immediate presence for the Texans, piling up 13 sacks on the year, which ranked sixth-highest in the league.
Defensive Rookie of the Year (NFC): Jack Campbell. The Lions also found themselves a stud for the middle of its defense in Campbell, who registered 116 tackles, one sack, and three interceptions throughout the year.
This is where things get spicy. First, let's start with the teams that are a massive surprise to even be in this bracket. In the NFC, there was not one, not two, but THREE NFC SOUTH TEAMS that made the playoffs! Most surprisingly, the Bucs -- who we'll talk more about in a minute -- were the No. 2 seed in the conference with the Saints and Panthers finishing behind them. However, the postseason run for both Carolina and New Orleans was short-lived after being eliminated during Super Wild Card Weekend. Green Bay also didn't miss a beat in the aftermath of losing Aaron Rodgers as Jordan Love was able to lead them to a division title in his first season as the full-time starter and an NFC Championship appearance.
In the AFC, the Colts snagging the No. 2 seed is absolutely wild (and makes you wonder how Shane Steichen didn't win Coach of the Year). As we noted above, Anthony Richardson was able to produce on Day 1, which led to Indy finishing with a 12-5 record. But, Sean Payton was able to work his magic and have Russell Wilson and company sneak into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed and upset the Colts at home during Super Wild Card Weekend. The Browns were a mildly surprising playoff team but were blown out by the Bills and sent home in short order.
The most heartbreaking (and comical if you're not a Cowboys fan) is what occurred with Dallas. After a monster regular season where they finished with the No. 1 seed in the NFC and watched as Dak Prescott ascended to an MVP, they were sent packing coming out of the bye at the hands of the Packers. This head-to-head of NFL royalty was knotted up at 24 apiece at the end of regulation and proceeded into overtime. They both traded touchdown drives at the start with Green Bay eventually pulling away and dashing Dallas' dream of a Lombardi.
But that's not the biggest story to come out of the NFC Playoffs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked the NFL with a Super Bowl run in the first year without Tom Brady. Baker Mayfield became the club's starting quarterback and led them to a division title while the veteran QB threw for 4,529 yards, 36 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. The Bucs then proceeded to take down the Panthers, Seahawks, and Packers en route to Super Bowl LVIII. Mayfield was dominant in the NFC title game, throwing for 344 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception while completing 78% of his throws.
Meanwhile, the Divisional Round in the AFC was mostly chalk outside of Denver's surprise run and upset over the Bengals. The other matchup was more of the same with Kansas City getting the better of Buffalo and eventually ending the Broncos Cinderella run in the AFC Championship.
Super Bowl LVIII
For the fourth time in five years, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are playing for a Lombardi Trophy. And, as fate would have it, we have ourselves a rematch of Super Bowl LV, albeit without Tom Brady leading the Buccaneers. Instead, it's Baker Mayfield who has Tampa Bay in the big game in what has been a stunning breakout season for the outcasted ex-No. 1 overall pick.
Kansas City got the ball to begin the contest from Las Vegas and wasted no time, marching 77 yards down the field for an opening-drive touchdown. Mahomes dropped a 36-yard pass deep down the left side of the field into the arms of Kadarious Toney to go up, 7-0.
After a quick three-and-out by Tampa Bay, it looked like the Chiefs could mount a sizable lead out of the gate, but Mahomes threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by corner Jamel Dean. With a short field, the Bucs knotted the game thanks to a gutsy call, going for it on fourth down at the goal line. Mayfield was able to drop back and hit tight end Cade Otton for the short score.
Following that score, the Chiefs would again move all the way inside the 10-yard line and, with a minute before halftime, Mahomes again connected to Toney for his second touchdown of the half. The Bucs then dinked and dunked their way down the field and utilized all of their timeouts to get within field goal range to trail K.C. 14-10 heading into the break.
The second half is where the Chiefs started to pull away en route to yet another Super Bowl title. Mahomes led this third touchdown drive of the game after the K.C. defense was able to force Mayfield and the Bucs to punt. At the start of the fourth quarter, Mahomes connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a red zone touchdown to go up by double digits. The nail in the coffin came following that score when the defense again was able to clamp down on Mayfield and pressure him into an interception that gave the Chiefs the ball back in Tampa Bay territory.
As you may expect, Andy Reid then primarily kept the ball on the ground to simply burn time as the Chiefs closed out their third Lombardi Trophy win in the Mahomes era. However, after various Tampa Bay timeouts, Mahomes was forced to throw on third-and-3 and threw his fourth touchdown of the game (second to MVS) to go up. Mayfield did show some late life and put together a touchdown drive, but it was too late to mount the comeback as Kansas City became the first team since 2004 to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles, beating the Bucs, 28-17.
Mahomes finished with 234 yards passing, four touchdowns, and one interception en route to Super Bowl MVP honors for the third time in his career.